Floyd Cardoz, the influential Indian American chef behind the groundbreaking Tabla, dies of complications from covid-19 – The Washington Post

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Kris Connor

AFP/Getty Images

Chefs Floyd Cardoz and Anita Lo at a dinner at Paowalla in New York City in 2016.

This post has been updated.

Floyd Cardoz, an influential India-born chef and restaurateur widely credited for introducing the flavors of his homeland to New York’s fine-dining scene in the 1990s, died Wednesday from an infection related to covid-19, according to the company that oversees his restaurants. He was 59.

The company, Hunger Inc. Hospitality, issued a statement confirming his death. The statement said he died in New Jersey.

A multiple James Beard Award nominee, Cardoz went to culinary school in Mumbai before studying at the respected Global Hospitality Management School at Les Roches in Switzerland. He moved to New York in 1988 and, several years later, started working at Lespinasse, where the late Gray Kunz blended Asian ingredients with French techniques.

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Cardoz left Lespinasse to join forces with restaurateur Danny Meyer to open Tabla, a pioneering Indian-American fine-dining destination in Manhattan. It received three stars from Ruth Reichl when she was restaurant critic for the New York Times.

“Mr. Cardoz is working with a palette similar to that employed by Mr. Kunz, but here it is not tempered by the cream and butter of the French kitchen,” Reichl wrote in her review. “This is American food, viewed through a kaleidoscope of Indian spices. The flavors are so powerful, original and unexpected that they evoke intense emotions. Those who do not like Tabla tend to dislike it with a passion.”

Cardoz would earn four Beard nominations for his work at Tabla, which closed in 2010 after a 12-year run. It was the first restaurant that Meyer closed. Cardoz also won Season 3 of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.”

Meyer and Cardoz would first cross paths in the mid-1990s, not long after Union Square Hospitality Group signed a lease to open two restaurants in the Eleven Madison Building. One would become Eleven Madison Park, a three-Michelin-star restaurant originally opened by Meyer in 1998 as a more approachable brasserie. (Meyer sold Eleven Madison Park in 2011.) The second restaurant was going to showcase the Indian-spiced dishes that chef Michael Romano was trying to shoehorn into the Union Square Cafe menu, which leaned more Italian, French and California. But neither Romano nor Meyer knew anyone who could lead such an Indian-American kitchen.

That’s when Nick Oltarsh, a chef at Gramercy Tavern, overheard the men discussing their problem. “And Nick said, ‘If you guys are really interested, I know just the guy for you,’” Meyer recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. The guy was Cardoz, then cooking at Lespinasse.

Cardoz would not only lead Tabla for a dozen years, but he would also turn Meyer onto to Pat LaFrieda, the company that now supplies meats to the finest restaurants in New York. Meyer was looking to add a hamburger to his hot dog cart in Madison Square Park, the very cart that would gradually morph into the Shake Shack chain.

“Floyd was the one who said, ‘You really need to talk to Pat LaFrieda,’ and Pat LaFrieda was far from a household name as a butcher back then,” Meyer said. “It was Pat’s beef that really put the Shake Shack burger on the map, and that was Floyd’s doing.”

Cardoz’s rise in the culinary world was not easy in the 1990s, when fine-dining chefs were just beginning to embrace flavors and ingredients from cuisines outside the European tradition. But Cardoz was determined, Meyer said, not just to carve out a place for himself in New York, but to prove himself to his family, which wasn’t happy that he had abandoned his studies in engineering and medicine.

“He used to tell me that his dad was not at all happy to learn that Floyd was giving that up to become a chef,” Meyer said, “and I think he really, really wanted to prove that Indian food should not be relegated to an $8 buffet lunch, and it should really be considered among the top cuisines in the world.”

Kris Connor

AFP/Getty Images

Cardoz at Paowalla in 2016.

Meyer and Cardoz would team up again to open the North End Grill in the Battery Park City neighborhood of New York. The restaurant was something of a free-association concept, wrote critic Pete Wells in his two-star review in the Times, offering grilled seafood, egg dishes and pours from a large single-malt Scotch collection.

Cardoz would go on to open several of his own restaurants, both in New York and Mumbai. In New York, he opened Paowalla in the SoHo neighborhood in 2016 before transforming it, two years later, into the more casual Bombay Bread Bar, which closed last year. In Mumbai, Cardoz operated a pair of restaurants, O Pedro, his ode to Goan food and culture, and Bombay Canteen, his take on Indian regional cooking.

[With their business evaporating, restaurants use their kitchens to feed those in need]

“Floyd Cardoz was much more than just a business partner for us,” said Hunger Inc. Hospitality. co-founder Yash Bhanage in a Facebook message. “He was our mentor, guide, father figure all rolled into one amazing human being. He kept us grounded and humble during the high moments and lifted our spirits whenever we felt down in the dumps. He played a huge role in the success of Hunger Inc Hospitality and our restaurants, bringing perspective and contributions that only he could. His passing has left a deep void that can never be filled. We will truly miss him.”

The chef had recently returned from India, where, among other things, he filmed an episode (“Don’t Call It Curry”) for Season 2 of David Chang’s Netflix series, “Ugly Delicious.” Cardoz checked himself into a New York hospital in March, which set off a panic among his friends and fans. He would later, in an Instagram post, apologize for alarming everyone.

“Sincere apologies everyone,” he wrote. “I am sorry for causing undue panic around my earlier post. I was feeling feverish and hence as a precautionary measure, admitted myself into hospital in New York. I was hugely anxious about my state of health and my post was highly irresponsible causing panic in several quarters.”

Cardoz had tested positive for covid-19 on March 18, Hunger Inc. Hospitality said in the statement. His death has led to an outpouring of tributes online. Chang wrote that he was heartbroken in an Instagram post and added, “we will carry on your beautiful legacy.” In a tweet, Khushbu Shah, the restaurant editor at Food & Wine magazine, wrote: “Deeply upset to hear this news. It was an honor to know Floyd. He was a kind, ground breaking chef who paved the way for so many South Asians.”

The chef wrote two cookbooks: “One Spice, Two Spice” in 2006 and “Flavorwalla” in 2016.

Survivors include Cardoz’s mother, Beryl; his wife, Barkha; and their two sons, Justin and Peter.

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